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  • Azher Hamid

Linthoi Chanambam: India’s First Judo World Champion

Who is Linthoi Chanambam?

On August 27, 2022, Linthoi Chanambam became India’s first-ever Judo world champion across any age group! The 16-year-old who is from Mayang Imphal of the Manipur state competed at this year's World Judo Cadet Championships held in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Chanambam, whose father is a farmer and mother is a housewife, began training in the martial art of Judo in 2014 at a local Judo academy near her hometown. In 2017, she caught the eye of her current coach [Mamuka Kizilashvilil] who recruited her to train at the Inspire Institute of Sports (IIS) in Bellary, India. Since moving under the tutelage of Kizilashvilil, Chanambam has won gold medals at the 2018 Sub-Junior Judo Championship, the 2021 National Sub-Junior Cadet Judo Championship, the 2022 Asian Cadet and Junior Judo Championship, the 2022 Khelo India Youth Games and of course the World Judo Cadet Championship.

What is Judo?

Japanese Judoka Hifumi Abe (white) grips his opponent’s back and sleeve to generate the leverage to throw his opponent over his hip, this technique known as O-Goshi is one of the original 40 throws in Judo.

Judo which translates to “the way of gentleness” is a gi-based grappling martial art that traces its origins to Japan. The sport was founded in 1882 in Tokyo by Professor Jigoro Kano who was a practitioner of traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. Professor Kano saw the disorganization of the various styles of Jiu-Jitsu and sought to reorganize it under a single banner that fosters new ideas and training in the sport of Judo. Today, Judo is one of the most popular international combat sports with the sport being added to the Olympic Games in 1964 and has been featured since the summer Olympics in 1972. The rules for Judo are based on attaining an Ippon or Wazari. An Ippon counts as a full point which automatically ends the match. There are many ways one can score an Ippon which would involve moves such as throwing your opponent flat on their back, pinning them for 20 seconds, or forcing them to tap out using a choke or joint lock. The other type of score is a Wazari which is worth a half point; scoring two Wazari's would equal an Ippon, thus ending the match. Examples of scoring a Wazari would be throwing your opponent on their side or only pinning them for 10 seconds. Each match lasts 4 minutes and if a score has not been attained by either opponent—or if the score is tied one Wazari each—the match goes into a sudden death known as the golden score. In this round, there is no time limit and the person who scores by any method is almost immediately declared the victor.

The 2022 World Judo Cadet Championship

Chanambam is attempting to squat below French Opponent Emma Meilis’s center of gravity to lift Emma in the air to throw her backward onto the ground, this throw is known as Ura-Nage.

The World Judo Cadets Championship is one of the highest levels of Judo international competition for competitors under the age of 18. This is one of the first major international tournaments for Judokas between the ages of 15-17 to gain experience and notoriety before moving into competing in other higher-level tournaments such as the Grand Prix and Grand Slams. On her road to the finals, Linthoi commanded a dominant performance by winning 4 matches in a row via Ippon in the women’s 57kg category. Her final match to decide who takes home the gold was against Bianca Reis of Brazil, who had just finished 5th at the Junior World Championships—a competition considered to be a level above the Cadet. Since Reis had more experience competing on the international stage, Chanambam was facing her hardest test yet with a seasoned competitor. Despite her experience deficit, Chanambam was able to score a Wazari a third of the way into the match which gave her a half-point advantage over her opponent. All she had to do was wait until the time for the match ran out and she’d be champion. However, things didn’t get any easier when her coach was ejected from the coaching box when protesting to the referees to dispute an illegally attempted Wazari from Reis. With Chanambam by herself, she had to persevere to find a way to retain her half-point advantage and win the match. After surviving several strong attacks from Reis, Chanambam pulled through the 4-minute match and became India’s first-ever Judo World Champion!

What’s Next for Chanambam?

Linthoi Chanambam and her World Cadet Gold Medal with her Coach Mamuka Kizilashvilil.

Despite becoming a world champion, Chanambam is hungry for more medals. She is currently eyeing to become India’s first-ever gold medalist in Judo at the 2024 Olympics in Paris. The greater significance of Chanambam's victory at the Judo Cadet World Championship signals a resurgence in martial arts in South Asia. Other Combat sports such as Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and Mixed Martial Arts have become increasingly popular in India as well as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. India has managed to produce multiple athletes to win bronze and silver medals in the 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020 Olympics. Bangladesh has several Mixed Martial Artists competing in the MMA promotion One Championship.

South Asia has a long, rich, and forgotten history in martial arts being a region of the world that influenced martial arts along the silk road. With young and ambitious martial artists like Linthoi Chanambam, maybe South Asia may be the next hotspot for martial arts in the next couple of decades.

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